exam_exam_tipsNew Year, new you, right? Even if you aren’t big on New Year’s Resolutions (I’m not), you still can set personal goals or must-dos for the New Year. One thing I am making certain to do for myself this year is to start taking care of my health. I do it for my kids, but I need to do it for me too.

Since eyes are the window into overall health and often overlooked (no-pun intended), scheduling regular eye exams is essential to an overall health care strategy. While I have a father-in-law who is a retired optometrist (it’s fabulous to have an eye professional in the family), what if you don’t have that person in your family tree? What steps do you take, and who do you see, to make your eyes your first priority in 2013?

The first thing to realize is that it is never too late. So don’t let your embarrassment hold you back from booking your first appointment. Trust me, you are not the first 40 year old to see an eye doctor for the first time. Once you realize that having an eye exam is not as scary as it may seem, then these are the next steps:

Pick a provider.

Decide if you want to see an optometrist or opthamologist.

An Optometrist is a health care professional who is licensed to provide primary eye care services, like examining the eye, diagnosing and treating various eye diseases, treating visual conditions like near sightedness or far sightedness, and to prescribe glasses or other corrective lenses. They are a Doctor of Optometry, an O.D. (not to be confused with a Doctor of Medicine, an M.D.). To become an optometrist, one must complete pre-professional undergraduate college education followed by 4 years of professional education in a college of optometry. Some optometrists also do a residency.

An Ophthalmologist is an eye M.D., a medical doctor who is specialized in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, from prescribing glasses to performing eye surgery. After 4 years of medical school and a year of internship, every ophthalmologist spends a minimum of 3 years of hospital-based residency in ophthalmology.

Once you decide which type of vision provider you need or want, then check to see what vision care service plan has the best selection of quality optometrists or ophthalmologists, like VSP Vision Care’s network of 28,000 private practice optometrists. If you are booking appointments for your kids, ask questions on what they do to make kids feel comfortable and and how many pediatric patients they have! While all eye care providers are trained in all areas, it may make you feel comfortable to know they are prepared for a squirmy preschooler or toddler tantrums or five-year old fears! Once you have a plan and provider that you are happy with, familiarize yourself on what happens during an eye exam. It is not as scary as you might think.

Medical and eye history.

The doctor will ask you about your medical past. This will help your doctor evaluate your risk for vision problems, eye diseases, and other medical conditions.

How far can you see?

The optometrist or opthomologist will ask you to look at a Snellen Chart. (The image above.) It tests how well you can see far away. The smaller the letters you can read, the better your distance vision.

What is your eye strength?

Your eye doctor will shine a light into your eyes to check your vision and estimate your eyewear prescription. To fine-tune your prescription, your eye care doctor places a series of lenses in front of your eyes (not on them, more like eyeglass lenses) and asks which one (if any) helps you see more clearly.

Your vision provider will then ask you to close one eye and look at an object across the room. Your VSP doctor watches how far your uncovered eye moves to see the object.

Check the health of your eye.

The “puff test”—a common test for glaucoma— measures the fluid pressure inside your eyes. It takes just a quick puff of air in each eye. Your VSP doctor may also shine a special blue light in your eyes to test for this condition. If the ‘puff’ test is something you want to avoid (I’m not a fan, to be honest), ask your vision provider what they use before scheduling an appointment, and find another provider if you want something different!

Some other things that may occur is getting dilating drops to enlarge your pupils for a better view inside your eyes to help detect signs of eye and health conditions. The drops may make your vision blurry and your eyes sensitive to light for several hours, but it doesn’t hurt. Just bring some sunglasses with you for when you head home.

Finally, your eye provider will get a magnified view of the front and inside of your eyes using a slit lamp, or biomicroscope. This helps detect signs of eye conditions, like cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.

All in all, getting frequent eye exams are important. If you have frequent headaches, find yourself squinting while driving, or having a hard time reading the print on restaurant menus, these too may be signs to visit an eye doctor. Hopefully the steps of what happens during an eye exam will show that it is a simple process that can bring a great ‘vision’ for your future!

{If you are wondering on what steps you can take to prepare your children for an eye exam or other vision tips, check out my post on “Preparing Kids for an Eye Exam!}


VSP_Blog_Ambassador_BadgeDisclosure: This post is part of my compensated ambassadorship with VSP Vision Care. This post was reviewed by Dr. Zoey Tolchin of Clear View Eye Associates in Logan Square, MA to ensure that I was providing the correct health care information. She provided valuable tips too! 

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